IS COGNITIVE DECLINE INEVITABLE?

My mind goes often to this non planet

If I knew where my mind was, I’d be able to find it. 
My mind goes to Pluto at the drop of a hat. 
What did I come into this room to get?
And where did I park my car?

As we age, we lose brain cells. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. My mother claimed we kids were responsible for the early grey in her hair and its white was the result of the loss of brain cells, which she attributed to our wild ways driving her crazy. Neurons in the brain do die every day, but the brain grows new ones into a person’s seventies. 

Previous research suggests cognitive decline doesn’t begin before the age of 60, but this view isn’t universally accepted by scientists, much less the common public. We all have met people who’ve quit growing intellectually in their 30’s, while some have flexible minds and continue to learn new ideas and adjust their previously held thoughts when new information is presented. Some people’s capacity for memory, reasoning and comprehension skills (cognitive function) can start to deteriorate from age 45. 

Happy Birthday—Don’t return the favor.

This is why 40 was once considered “over the hill,” but folks today think of 50 as that apex. When my brother decorated my desk with dead plants and black balloons for my 40th birthday, I’m sure he meant it with tongue in cheek. However he might have been also alluding to my well known “space ranger” wandering mind. I don’t think I had cognitive decline; rather mine was more imaginative daydreaming, also known as “not paying attention.”

When I was 60, I watched a program on dementia and cognitive decline. The difference between forgetfulness and cognitive decline is the first happens occasionally and the latter affects your daily living negatively. On my recent vacation I forgot to bring toothpaste. I bought a tube at the grocery store. Cognitive decline is when you forget how to brush your teeth, you get cavities, and don’t make dentist appointments anymore. Then you lose the teeth and get dentures. Most likely someone also has to remind you to use the bubble cleaner on them and rinse them before they go in your mouth again. 
Since understanding cognitive aging will be one of the challenges of this century, especially as life expectancy continues to rise, we have to ask, what can we do to for our whole health? 

As easy as popping a pill sounds, a large recent review of studies found no solid evidence that vitamin and mineral supplements have any effect in preventing cognitive decline or dementia. The whole internet is full of health claims for this and that supplement, drink, bar, or detox tonic. While B vitamins; beta carotene; vitamins C, D or E; zinc, copper or selenium may be needed in your diet for other reasons, none of these have proved effective in preventing cognitive decline. 

How can you prevent cognitive decline? Try this combination strategy:
Four steps can improve your mental skills, even as you age—
1. following a healthy diet, 
2. getting regular exercise, 
3. socializing, and 
4. challenging your brain.

The results of the Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability (FINGER), which is the latest and most impressive study, goes a step further by suggesting that if you follow all four practices, you may even reverse lost mental capacity. The FINGER study indicated those who did so not only kept cognitive skills from declining, it also improved their reasoning skills and speed in performing mental tasks.

The volunteers were randomly assigned to two groups. One set of participants—the study group—received personal nutritional counseling, exercise instruction from physical therapists, and cognitive training. They also underwent seven medical exams during the study period. They frequently met in groups for cooking classes, cognitive training, or exercise instruction. The other participants—the control group—had three medical exams, during which they received general health advice. Both groups were given mental function tests again at the end of the study.

Dr. Scott McGinnis, a neurologist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital and author of The Harvard Guide to Coping with Alzheimer’s Disease, says “Healthy lifestyle behaviors can benefit people of all ages. But to have the greatest impact on late-life mental function, get started early.” 

The FINGER study’s results should offer additional encouragement to pursue a healthy, active, engaged lifestyle with regular exercise, a Mediterranean diet, and challenging mental activities because these can help preserve your mental acuity. Moreover, the FINGER study reminds us it not only helps to combine these practices, but it also helps to enjoy them as we do them. 

This wasn’t a quick fix, either. The FINGER program lasted for two years and the participants stuck with it because they were enjoying themselves. They also had become friends with others in their training groups. Although the experiment was demanding, only 12% of participants dropped out. Plus, these folks worked at their exercise—attendance was over 85% at training sessions, which included three to five exercise sessions a week, as well as 10 to 12 sessions of nutrition counseling and 144 cognitive training sessions over two years.

If you’re having trouble making healthy changes, a cooking or exercise class may help you get started and open a new circle of friends. Volunteering as a tutor, joining a community choir, or working on a political campaign can offer new intellectual challenges and social engagement. The key to making lifestyle changes is in finding a way to enjoy making them—and that is often among a group of companions who are striving for the same goal. 

Fresh vegetables and Chicken breast in Olive oil

We all make a choice in our lives. If we want good health, but don’t want to give up our television programs, we either need to pick an exercise time outside of our favorite TV shows, or hit a gym with screens. For instance, I still eat fried chicken, but only on my vacation. I eat uncured bacon on Saturdays rather than every day, and pancakes once a month. I haven’t given up my favorite foods, but I’ve put a limit on the most unhealthy ones out of respect for my body. This gives me some room for when I feel the need to self medicate with two scoops of ice cream, as when my computer died last month and I had to replace it. Making a big decision is definitely an ice cream moment for me, but I don’t need it every day anymore. 

One of my goals at Cornie’s Kitchen is to learn new skills and information to benefit the majority of persons in our world today: half of Americans and 30% of the world’s population are obese or overweight, and the cardiovascular diseases associated with obesity are increasing worldwide also. Since our children are also impacted by this health risk, we have to change our way of looking at food, exercise, time, stress, life, work, and our means of balancing the competing and complex needs in our world. 

If I can’t wave a magic wand over you, say a magic spell, or cast a potion of power over you, then at least I can help you burn through a few brain cells. They’ll grow back. Grey hair is a sign of power and wisdom.  

Joy and Peace, 

Cornie 

Advertisements

Spicy Sweet Nut and Seed Mix

Cold and grey weather in December makes me want to bake in the kitchen. I must have my mother’s DNA for sure, since some of my fondest memories are of her up to her elbows into a giant mixing bowl as she stirred together the various candied fruits and nuts for the fruit cake cookies and loaves she produced in mass quantities every Christmas.

This recipe also had a significant amount of cheap whiskey in it, so when I was preaching in small towns in Arkansas, I usually let one of the ladies of the church know of my need. “Don’t you worry,” they’d tell me, “we’ll make sure this gets covered.”

A few days later I’d be invited over to this kind lady’s home for lunch. She’d have a Christmas gift for me. Inside the colorful bag would be a small flagon, double wrapped in a brown paper bag. “You don’t have to tell anyone where you got it. That’s a secret, just between you and me.”

I’d nod and smile. Christmas has always been time for secrets. My parents would hide presents up in the attic until we got big enough to pull the rope for the hidden stairs. Then they hid the gifts in the trunk of my daddy’s black Pontiac. I never knew why we weren’t able to find the keys. When we were truly old, my folks managed to keep the Christmas secrets by gift wrapping the presents at the store before we came home from school.

One of the mysteries of Christmas I discovered along the way was Santa could write as elegantly as my daddy, but I never told anyone else. After all, I had two younger siblings and I wouldn’t want to spoil his visits for them! This recipe makes a Spicy Sweet Nut and Seed Mix for snacks. You can vary it infinitely and even use it as a base for a Chocolate Bark recipe. It’s great for a share party.

Fresh out of the oven!

Ingredients

4 cups unsalted, roasted whole nuts (almonds, pecans, pistachios, and walnuts)

1 cup seeds (I used pumpkin, quinoa, and sunflower)

1/4 cup agave

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 teaspoon red-pepper flakes

1 Tbs brandy

227 grams chocolate chips (1 cup)

1 teaspoon kosher salt (divided)

1 teaspoon turbinado sugar

Red pepper flakes from three chili peppers

Step 1

Heat the oven to 325 degrees and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine the nuts and seeds.

Step 2

In a microwave-safe bowl, combine agave, butter, red-pepper flakes and ½ teaspoon salt. Microwave until the butter has melted, about 30-40 seconds. (Alternatively, you can melt the mixture in a small saucepan on the stove.)

Step 3

Pour the butter mix over the nuts and seeds, and stir until well coated. Dump onto the prepared baking sheet and spread in an even layer. You want the nut mix spread out as much as possible.

Step 4

Bake, stirring occasionally, until the nuts are tacky and look and smell toasted, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately sprinkle over the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and all of the turbinado or dark brown sugar. Let cool on the baking sheet, then transfer to a bowl and serve (or transfer to an airtight container, where they’ll keep for up to 4 days).

Nutrition information for 1 serving (24 total servings)

OF ORDINARY MIRACLES

Greek yogurt with cocoa, fruit and nuts

“Fabulous Fermented Foods” have been part of my family’s history for generations back. In the rural antebellum South, folks made cornbread with buttermilk and bacon grease. They didn’t waste soured milk in those unrefrigerated days, just as they used every bit of the pig but its squeal. “Waste not, want not,” was an adage my forebears took to heart, even to my embarrassment of their saving balls of string or aluminum foil for reuse. The latter I thought unsanitary, in my modern worldview, but I’d never experienced great want of any kind as they had.

I enjoyed helping my nanny can food by pickling peaches and cucumbers, but that was a different process than fermentation. My mother did ferment a fruit compote with alcohol, which we all devoured with gusto over ice cream during the holidays. “Is it ready yet?” was as frequent a question as “When can we open a present?”

Of course we ate pimento cheese sandwiches, especially during those long lazy days of summer, but none of us ever connected the cheese making process to fermentation by good bacteria or yeasts. We ate, enjoyed, and never gave it a second thought as we sought the shade or a cool dip in refreshing water. Like many people of our day, we were incurious of the many ordinary miracles which surrounded all of us.

Now I’m well into my seventh decade and understand these trendy (but ancient) foods have potential health benefits. Fermenting foods changes their taste and texture, along with their chemical and biological properties.

Fermented foods may be the oldest “new” food trend around. The process is as old as civilization itself, and fermented foods are consumed in nearly every culture in the world. While researchers attempt to tease out how the changes caused by fermentation actually impact health, many not-fully-substantiated health claims are being made. Let’s take a look at what we know, and don’t know, about these promising (and tasty) foods.

FERMENTATION PROCESS

What is Fermentation? Fermentation occurs when microorganisms (certain species of bacteria, yeast, or mold) feed on starch, sugar, and other food components. This ancient process was originally used for preserving foods, but it fell out of favor in the age of refrigeration and pasteurization.

Many foods and beverages that are commonplace in the U.S. are a result of fermentation. Grains are fermented to make beer and bread; wine is made by fermenting grape juice; and yogurt and cheese are popular forms of fermented milk. Any foods can be fermented, and there are many examples of fermented foods around the world, such as Korean kimchi and the Swedish fermented fish Surströmming.

HEALTH BENEFIT CLAIMS

Behind the Health Benefit Claims. “It is becoming increasingly clear that the fermentation process changes the health-promoting characteristics of foods,” says Jeffrey B. Blumberg, PhD, professor emeritus at Tufts’ Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.

For example, large studies have suggested an association between consumption of fermented dairy foods and weight maintenance that is not seen with unfermented dairy products, and frequent yogurt consumption is associated with lower risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and overall mortality.

Some data show kimchi, a fermented cabbage dish ubiquitous in Korean cooking, is associated with anti-diabetic and anti-obesity benefits not seen with unfermented cabbage. Some of these suspected health benefits may result from the presence of the microorganisms themselves, but emerging research indicates that changes those organisms make to the food constituents, and new constituents they create, might have health benefits in their own.

HEALTH BENEFITS INCLUDE

Some of the potentially health-promoting effects of fermentation include:

1. Adding to our gut microbiota. Probiotics are live bacteria that some evidence indicates can confer health benefits when consumed in adequate numbers.

Some bacteria used in fermentation are known probiotics (or are similar to probiotic species). If fermented foods and beverages contain live microorganisms when consumed, a relatively large number of these organisms apparently make it through the human digestive system alive. “During the last decade, the number of studies has exploded regarding gut microbiota and their impact on the health of not only the gut but also the brain, heart, and immune system,” says Blumberg.

2. Changing existing compounds. In fermentation, the microorganisms break down food constituents. This process may have health benefits. For example, in fermented vegetables certain bacteria help convert health-promoting flavonoids into a more readily-absorbed form.

In dairy products, the bacteria break down lactose, making yogurt and cheese easier for lactose-intolerant people to digest.

3. Creating new compounds. Fermentation may create new compounds that have health-promoting actions in the body.

For example, one common result of bacterial fermentation is lactic acid (lactate), which recent research indicates is involved in anti-inflammatory and possibly antioxidant processes.

Other strains of microorganisms actually synthesize B vitamins or vitamin K; discourage “bad” bacteria from taking hold in the gut; or produce molecules not found in the original form of the food that play a variety of potentially health-promoting roles in the body.

4. Deactivating undesirable compounds. In addition to creating (mostly) desirable compounds in foods, fermentation can also remove undesirable compounds. In some plant foods, so-called anti-nutrients like phytic acid bind to nutrients like iron and calcium, decreasing the amount of these nutrients available to be absorbed by the body.

Fermentation can reduce phytic acid levels, which frees up more nutrients for absorption. Additionally, some food components are typically fermented in the gut by gut bacteria. This can create gas and trigger digestive problems. Fermenting foods before consumption leaves less work for gut microbes, and may help ease digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome.

5. So far, there is not a lot of clinical data backing up the potential health benefits discussed above, or the health claims often attributed to fermented foods.

But tasty foods like yogurt, hard cheese, the fermented yogurt drink kefir, cabbage-based sauerkraut and kimchi, or the increasingly popular fermented tea kombucha are delicious ways to add nutritional variety to your overall dietary pattern.

Of course when we say “yogurt,” we mean the plain, unsweetened product, to which you control the additional fruits and sugar content. The presugared/fruit purée style is not a healthy choice. Look for a yogurt with more grams of protein than in carbohydrates (Greek usually fits the healthier choice).

The same goes for other milk products, or any prepared food or drink. If it has added sugars, leaving it on the shelf is the best way to keep it from showing up on your own body. If you have a body like mine, these sugar bombs explode in one perturbing place, every single time, as if there were a hidden sugar magnet inside my body! Every. Single. Time.

Yet we can do this! I keep weighing my food, keep a food diary, and exercise. I realize 30 minutes a day doesn’t seem to be enough to lose weight, but it is enough to keep my blood sugar and blood pressure in check. I either have to work less and workout more, or accept 2/3 of my efforts are good enough for someone in the later years of her life.

I’ll probably be working on the last 1/3, just because I can’t rest until I get it ALL. This means I need to cut back on some of my “working.” I’m going to post more monthly on this blog than every two weeks from now on. My Facebook Cornie’s Kitchen page will get more frequent posts.

Joy and peace, Cornie.

Tufts Nutrition Letter, Articles, November 2018 Issue

https://www.nutritionletter.tufts.edu/issues/14_11/current-articles/Fabulous-Fermented-Foods_2487-1.html

Eagle Brand Coffee

Drinking Eagle Brand Coffee this morning. I wondered who to root for last night for the big football game. My head said Patriots, but my heart said Eagles. Tom Brady, my head said, is the best quarterback around. What do you know about this backup from the Eagles?

My heart answered, but you love the underdogs, the unappreciated, and the undervalued. Why not go with your heart, since it’s the seat of your feelings, and you trust those more than the logic of your mind. Anyway, it’s just a game, and it’ll be interesting any way it turns out.

Some of my friends gathered to “watch the game,” but as in any party, some are there for the food, some for the commercials, some for the fellowship, and a die hard few for the actual game. The evening is for all, and we don’t all have to do the same thing. We can wander in and out, tasting and experiencing it all, or we can stick with one thing.

We don’t have to be all alike, since we celebrate freedom in America. We don’t even have to think alike or root for the same teams. We forget how blessed we are when we let petty people and politics divide us. If we sought instead to find what unites us, we’d recover the common ground.

After all, those who seek to divide us do this for their best interests, and not for ours. If we separate into easily defined subgroups, they can market to us, they can count us, and they can court us. Perhaps if we began to look for the humanity of the others in our midst and walk a mile in their shoes, we would no longer think of them as “others ” but as brothers and sisters.

Christmas Baking for Emotional Eaters

I’m in Christmas cooking mode for the holidays in Cornie’s Kitchen for the month of December. Some of my favorite people who stop by for a visit might be drawn by some wonderful and enticing smells emanating from the door of my cozy condo home.

My mother was always baking at Christmas time, as was her mother before her. I never was in my great grandmother’s home at Christmas, or I was too young to recall her traditions. I do know she had an old cast iron wood fired stove. She must have had some skills to keep an even temperature for baking her homemade breads and cookies.

One of my earliest childhood memories at Christmas time is my mother in her bathrobe racing out of the little wood frame home in which we lived before my youngest brother was born. She was holding the foil wrapped fruitcakes in her hands and shouting for my daddy, who was backing up the brand new shining brown Pontiac as he was headed off to work.

Over the years, the fruit cake became cookies with candied fruits and brandy, for they knew more people to “gift” at Christmas time. Everyone needs a little something to know you care about them, now and then.

A homemade treat is the best, for you can expend your energies and anxieties in the working of the ingredients. As you smell and touch the different items which go into the treat, the part of your need to consume is already being sated by these sensations.

As you mix by hand—and I’m old school, I don’t use a blender or processor—you use up calories. If we are PWO (persons with obesity) we need to use all the energy we can. Also, doing this by hand gives us an immediate and direct connection with the food we’re making. We’ll feel the textures, the densities, and the thickness or thinness of our product. We’ll have a “feel for it.”

Could you make this quicker if you used electric tools? Yes. Would you lose the meditative opportunity to become “one with the food?” Also yes. I also think you’d be tempted to eat much more of the food if made more quickly, for slow food sates the emotional needs we have which cause us to overeat beyond what is necessary. As we wait for the the appropriate smell to waft from the oven, or the timer to go off to let us know the candy has chilled in the icebox, we can clean up the kitchen or have a little time to put our feet up with a cup of our kitchen’s best. Or maybe both. We shouldn’t work too hard after all.

When the goodies are ready, we divide them up, but there’s alway a few irregular ones, a little too imperfect to gift away. These will eat just as good, even if they don’t look so good. For quality control reasons, at Cornie’s Kitchen, I eat the broken ones, always remembering portion control. After cooking and cleaning, I find I don’t need all that many. If we know the effort our food takes, this might be the best argument for portion control yet.

Let’s cook more often, and take out less. We could practice “Life by Fork” instead of “Death by Fork.”

Love, Cornie

Leftovers For Cinderella

EGGPLANT SOUP

I ate the traditional Thanksgiving dinner at a family setting Thursday, along with slivers of pies. The pot roast I made earlier got recycled as soup for two days after Thanksgiving. I had baked chicken with leftover carnival squash and roasted eggplant for dinner one night.

You can see the eggplant in the first soup bowl. I added some spinach and mushrooms to the potato and beef soup just to jazz it up and make it different from the asparagus and broccoli variation of the day before, which is below.

For Sunday breakfast I had French toast. I use vanilla, cinnamon, and 2 eggs with Dave’s killer bread. In a hot skillet, I pot 1 Tbs. sweet butter and cook the soaked bread slices until they’re golden brown. Then I add 1Tbs of maple syrup over the top. Using the real thing means I don’t need a lot, and often have some left over.

These are easy meals. I used the microwave to hasten the potato’s cooking to doneness, as also the asparagus stems. When you cook ahead, you have a quick dinner to make on another evening. It looks fresh by adding different veggies.

As we wind down this old year, time will compress, but obligations will mount up. We’ll be trying to squeeze a size ten foot into a size six shoe. It won’t work. We aren’t Cinderella! Take your list and chop it in half. Just do it. Spend more time being good to the ones you love. Spend less money on them. Enjoy each other’s company.

Joy and Peace, Cornie

PUT THE FROZEN TURKEY IN THE ICEBOX NOW

Today is Sunday. Thursday is Thanksgiving. Yep, we’re on a marathon dash toward the great family feast. The matriarch of the family always hosts this grand dinner where I come from. When I was a child, we ate at two groaning tables, since both Mom and Dad had parents living in town. Later on, The dinner duties passed to our home as the older generation went to their eternal home.

I can remember Mother often underestimated the size of the turkey, or she was chasing us kids around in a vain attempt to organize our school, sport, hobby, and social lives. It never happened, since we all had too many activities and interests for all our ducks to ever get in a row. Adding a turkey to the row was most likely a lost cause. Most Wednesday mornings would find her flooding the still crystallized turkey with cold water in a freshly cleaned sink.

This water bath would go on until we went to school. I never knew what she did with it while I was away from home. I guess that belongs to the secret wisdom now lost to the Mysteries of the Past. I do know when I was a young wife, I used to call her every November to ask, “How do you cook the turkey in the paper sack again?”

Every year she would reply, “You ninny, I never cook the turkey in a paper bag! That’s toxic!” I’m certain I have the memory of her rubbing the bird down with oil, wrestling it into a giant grocery sack, and tying the opening with string. “You don’t? Well, how do I cook it again?” Yes, I did own a cookbook, but I’d rather talk to my Mother. Having the turkey cooked the traditional way, as my family always has cooked it, was important, especially if we weren’t together.

Today, as our generations are more separated, as takeout and convenience foods become more common, and as industrial and processed foods are more predominant in family food plans, many people may choose to eat out for Thanksgiving. For those who don’t have an older or more experienced cook in the family to call for help, be glad for those of us who have a calling to pass on this “secret, gnostic knowledge, known only to a few.”

If your frozen turkey is the average 15 pound bird, it should go into the refrigerator today. I used an online calculator to determine how long to defrost safely in the ice box. It takes 3 days and 18 hours.

Don’t defrost on the kitchen counter due to salmonella poisoning danger, since the outside will be warmer than the frozen interior. Likewise, trying to rush it under water won’t work, since the inside won’t get completely defrosted. Then it won’t fully cook, or the outer bird will get over cooked and dry.

The cross stitch above is perfect for Thanksgiving week. If you go to Facebook and look for my Cornie’s Kitchen Page, I have a Post for a list of things to do for Thanksgiving. After the rush is over, you can have your nervous breakdown, if you think you still deserve it. Or you might be so organized, you sail through it. My advice is to do half of what you think is important. Most people think the people and the togetherness make the best memories, not the baking, the cleaning, the polishing, or the froo-frooing. Happy Thanksgiving to all of you and save room for pie!

Love, Cornie